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When to grow your DesignOps team

A framework for leveling up DesignOps at your organization
When to grow your DesignOps team

Setting up DesignOps is a constant, iterative process that will change depending on the needs of the design team as well as the needs of the organization as a whole. In fact, you can look at it gradually — think of the first stages of DesignOps as level one and introduce more people, processes, and resources as your team and your needs grow. Let’s take a look at what each level might look like.

Level 1: A designated “systems thinker”

Your organization doesn’t need to introduce DesignOps by carving out a dedicated role for it, at least not at first. When you’re figuring out what it will look like for your organization, it might make more sense to task a design leader with thinking through the systems part of your team’s work. This could include running a team canvas workshop, drafting new design guidelines, or setting up formalized training for all necessary stakeholders.

Level 2: The DesignOps tiger team

Someone with an already-overflowing plate tasked with formalizing a DesignOps function may have the best intentions, but will eventually need to enlist some help in order to do more. Here’s where a “tiger team” can really help.In this scenario, each person involved is working on DesignOps as a part of their larger set of responsibilities. This tiger team may consist of your original designated systems thinker, plus a few senior designers as well as some stakeholders from teams like marketing, engineering, and product marketing.As a team, you can start putting your plans into action. Maybe a senior designer is tasked with setting up a quarterly meeting where design wins are presented, and maybe your members from marketing and engineering help you evaluate tools that will allow for better collaboration between teams.

Level 3: DesignOps as a formalized role

Once you’ve done all you can with a scrappy tiger team, it’s time to formalize DesignOps by creating a separate, standalone leadership role for someone tasked solely with implementing and advancing the practice at your organization. They will build the pillars and work closely with the design team to make sure they’re doing everything they can to introduce systems where they’re needed.This leader will also serve as an evangelist of sorts, looking to bridge any gaps that exist between Design and any other team and communicate why design is important and what systems and tools are in place to improve it.

Level 4: The DesignOps team

Once you’ve set up a formalized and recognized function, there is more than enough work for one person to do. Some organizations choose to hire a manager whose sole focus is design culture. That person will focus on onboarding processes, team events, and company-wide events that are centered around design. Others may first choose to hire a more operations-focused DesignOps team member who will focus on the coordination aspects of your function, like resourcing, processing the budget, and dealing with product owners.

Level 5: The DesignOps team with designated program management

A newer role that’s been emerging in DesignOps teams is program management, which involves managing the work of the design team (as opposed to managing people). This person liaises with product and engineering teams to direct and optimize workflows.When it comes to growing DesignOps, the opportunities are endless. You’ll know what you have the capacity for, and what you need to be successful in the immediate future. Your DesignOps efforts should grow in tandem with the growth of your organization.

We’ve interviewed industry pioneers about how they’ve built and grown the DesignOps practices at their organizations in our book, Why your organization needs DesignOps.